The Brontë sisters’ pseudonyms

Merel Kohsiek wrote her first blogpost on the Brontë sisters’ pseudonyms, and how Charlotte’s identity was revealed:

Charlotte Brontë (source: Wikipedia)

Charlotte Brontë is now known mainly for her novel Jane Eyre, but her contemporaries did not know her as such. The novel was published under the pseudonym Currer Bell, a masculine name with the very same initials as her own name. Her two younger sisters, Emily (Ellis) and Anne (Acton), also published novels under false names. During the research I did for my course paper on Charlotte Brontë’s language of grief, I came across a letter in which she revealed her own and her sister’s identities to her publishers, Mr. Smith and Mr. Williams, with whom she had been corresponding for a while under the name Currer Bell. His astonishment at finding her to be a woman are described, as well as her wish to keep living in anonymity.

I then put his [i.e. Smith’s] own letter into his hand directed to “Currer Bell.” He looked at it—then at me—again—yet again—I laughed at his queer perplexity—A recognition took place— 

We were as resolved as ever to preserve our incognito—We had only confessed ourselves to our publisher—in order to do away with the inconveniences that had arisen from our too well preserved mystery—to all the rest of the world we must be “gentlemen” as heretofore.

(Both quotations are from a letter to Mary Taylor, 4 September 1848.)

It seems that not only did the sisters want to ‘preserve their incognito’ with strangers, none of their friends knew about their secret authorship either. There is no reference to Charlotte’s publications in any of her letters to Ellen Nussey, with whom she had maintained a close friendship since childhood. After her brother Branwell passed away (in September 1848), Charlotte (in a letter to Williams) expressed her sadness that he will never know of the success of his sisters, which might even have motivated him to make something more of his own life.

The fact that Charlotte chose to keep her authorship a secret from Ellen Nussey seems to indicate that their friendship may not have been as close as would be supposed from their correspondence. I would argue that due to the fact that Williams is aware of her authorship, and their letters discuss personal matters as well as matters of publishing, their friendship seems the closer one. I hope to elaborate my conclusions in my upcoming course paper.

Reference

Brontë, C. (1995-2000). The Letters of Charlotte Brontë: with a selection of letters by family and friends. Margaret Smith (ed.). 2 vols. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

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